Monday, April 30, 2012

Tempted by the Fates (WW110)

Dr. Catherine Neish stands atop one of the Kelso Dunes in the Mohave Dessert, California. Check out her website to learn more about her publications, activities and to view a slideshow of Catherine in front of things geologic.

We come now to our tenth episode. For those of you who think in astronomical terms, that means that we have increased our repertoire by an order of magnitude since our first presentation! For our tenth, we introduce a new interviewer to the mix - Marianne Mader. Her choice of interview subject is one whom I know well. My office mate for nearly four years at the University of Arizona and Titan expert, Dr. Catherine Neish of APL at Johns Hopkins. Those regular readers of this blog will know that nearly two years ago, I interviewed Dr. Neish for our sister program "York Universe." Luckily for us, she has always had time to speak to us and to you about the goings on out at Titan and close to home with our Moon.

In that respect, Dr. Neish is somewhat unique, someone who works across the solar system, but mainly on satellites instead of their primaries. However, Titan is large enough that it can be considered a world in its own right and in many ways is as interesting if not more so than some full-fledged planetary bodies. I've always been impressed by Dr. Neish's ability to make a lasting contribution no matter where she goes and you can include our analogue space missions here at Western University in that mix. Last summer, she was an integral member of Mission Control.

The ILSR Analogue Team relaxes at the Grad Club following the successful completion of week one of operations. Your humble narrator is located at the end of the table, clutching a green concoction. Catherine is at right (my left). Incidentally, WW Co-Host Raymond Francis can be seen at my right and Marianne Mader is second from the right.

As usual, my introduction can be found beneath the cut.

The fates that ordained the solar system drew a line in the sand and issued a direct challenge with Titan. They tossed us a few easy but tantalizing clues. We curious humans can’t resist when we are teased like that... But the surface was hidden from the Voyagers: ‘come back in 15 years when you’ve learned to see in the infrared’ chuckled the fates. You’re listening to Western Worlds!

Hello and welcome back for another conversation here on Western Worlds, an AFM*Original show heard right here on My name is Dr. John and I’m coming to you this week, as every week, from the Centre for Planetary Science and Exploration at Western University, the home of BWEAG favorite John Labatt in London, Ontario, Canada.

Ever since Gerard Kuiper’s observations in the 1940s, we knew that Titan was a special place. The only moon in the solar system with a substantial atmosphere, we didn’t get an up close look at the place until the late 1970s with the Pioneer 11 spacecraft. What we saw perplexed us. The surface of the planet was entirely hidden beneath a photochemical smog, giving the moon the appearance of an orange.

We tried again in the early 1980s with the Voyager spacecraft, as you will hear, sacrificing Voyager 1 to get a closer peek. In retrospect, Voyager 1 did get a faint hint of the surface that lay below, but we needed the clear images that would be made in the infrared by the Hubble Space Telescope and later by Cassini to understand that those ghosts were real.

However, there is one technology that has no issue whatsoever with Titan’s veil. Synthetic Aperture Radar or SAR, previously used by Magellan to map the surface of Venus, has really allowed us to see the character of titan clearly. From dunes to lakes it is a varied landscape, one that tonight’s guest, Dr. Catherine Neish has been exploring since the start of her graduate career. Dr. Neish has worked extensively with Cassini Radar data along with the originator of tonight’s quote Ralph Lorenz. Both are also hoping to work together to further our exploration of this enigmatic world. You’ll hear all about that and more in the interview to follow from our newest co-host, CPSX doctoral candidate Marianne Mader.

Appropriately for such an exotic landscape, Vangellis’ “Light and Shadow” is our music tonight.

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